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Future reference - Easy Learning Grammar

Verb forms

English has no future tense as such. However, several forms, especially the modal verbs will and shall, can be used to make future reference. These forms are summarized as follows:
  • 1Will/shall + the base form makes the most direct form of future reference. See Shall and will. The other modal verbs that express possibility make a more indirect reference to future time.
    • It will take several years to finish.
    • Jean will look after the dogs while we’re away.
    • I shall simply tell her to mind her own business.
    • We shall see.
  • 2Be going to + the base form is used to express intention and make predictions. See Future reference.
    • He failed his exam last year; this year he is going to work harder.
    • You’d better take the washing in; it is going to rain.
  • 3The present continuous tense is used to talk about plans and arrangements in the future with a time adverb. See The present continuous tense and Form of adverbs.
    • Sarah and Harriet are meeting at ten o’clock on Tuesday.
    • I am flying to Glasgow on Friday.
  • 4The present simple tense is used with a time adverb to talk about future plans which are part of a timetable or previous arrangement. See The present simple tense.
    • The main film starts at 2.45 p.m.
    • We leave at 4 p.m. tomorrow.
  • 5The future perfect tense (will have + the past participle) is used with a time adverb to talk about an action that will be finished at the time in the future that you are referring to. See Future reference.
    • I was hoping to meet James, but by the time I arrive he will have gone home.
  • 6Be about to + the base form is used to talk about the very near future. See Future reference.
    • I’m sorry I can’t stop and chat; I’m about to leave for work.
  • 7The future continuous tense (will be + the present participle) is used to talk about future action in progress. See Future reference.
    • What will you be doing on Saturday morning? Oh, I’ll be shopping as usual.
  • 8Be to + the base form is used to talk about formal plans, especially in journalism. See Future reference.
    • The President is to attend an EU–Russia summit tomorrow.
  • 1will/shall The modal verbs will or shall followed by the base form of a main verb are used to express future reference.
    I shall come.We shall come.
    I will come.We will come.
    You will come.You will come.
    She/he/it will come.They will come.
    Will can be used with all persons of the verb, although some speakers prefer to use shall in the 1st person singular and plural. See Shall and will for further details.
    • The contracted form is ’ll for both verbs, so there is no difference in informal speech.
      • I’ll probably be late, but I expect they’ll be on time.
      The contracted negative forms are won’t and shan’t.
    • We won’t come.
    • We shan’t come.
    • If there are two verbs in the sentence, it is normal not to repeat the modal form before the second one.
    • I won’t see him or speak to him for six months.
    We use will (or shall) for future reference in the following ways:
    • to talk about future facts.
    • I shan’t see Mary next week.
    • I’ll be on the plane this time tomorrow.
    • to make promises or reassurances.
    • I’ll be home in time for tea.
    • This won’t happen again, I can assure you.
    • to announce a decision that the speaker has just made.
    • Er, I’ll have the pizza Margherita and a side salad, please.
    • Right, I shall ask him, and see if his story matches yours.
    • to express negative intention, using won’t.
    • I won’t go there again. The service was dreadful.
    • to express refusal.
    • I won’t put up with any more of this silly behaviour.
    • I’ve tried to persuade her but she won’t come.
    • to talk about an event in the future, possibly in the distant future. A time clause may be used.
    • People will be amazed when they hear about this in years to come.
    • to refer to inevitable actions or events that will take place in the future.
    • Christmas is past, but it will come again next year.
    • to express an opinion about a future event after verbs such as believe, expect, hope, know, and think.
    • I expect he’ll be home soon.
    • I hope you’ll be very happy in your new home.
    • If you phone after six I’ll tell you all about it.
  • 2be going to
    Future reference can be made with be + going to + the base form of a main verb.
    • I am going to wait.
    • He is going to wait.
    • I am not going to wait.
    • He is not going to wait.
    • Is he going to wait?
    • Are they going to wait?
    Be going to is used in the following ways:
    • to express intention about the future.
    • Mary isn’t going to study art; she’s going to be a nurse.
    • to talk about things that have already been decided.
    • Is Jim going to leave his job? – Yes, he is.
    • Where’s Mary? She said she was going to come early.
    • to make a prediction about the future, often the very near future, based on something in the present.
    • Watch the milk! It is going to boil over!
    • Sally never does any work; she is going to fail her exams.
    If the past tense of be is used, a past intention or prediction can be expressed.
    • Judy was going to meet me, but she was ill and couldn’t come.
    • She was obviously going to get blisters with those new shoes.
    Note this difference:
    • Be going to is usually used for future events where the speaker expresses his or her intention.
    • Will is used to express decisions made at the moment of speaking.
    • I’m going to go to the pictures on Friday; would you like to come?
    • Yes, I’ll go if Chris goes.
  • 3Present continuous
    The present continuous tense is used to talk about plans for the future, or specific arrangements that people have made for future events.
    • The school is having a sale next week; I’m running the bookstall.
    It is often used in questions about future arrangements.
    • What are you doing on Saturday? – I’m going to a football match with Peter.
    • When are you leaving? – At the end of term.
    If there are two verbs in the sentence, it is normal not to repeat the auxiliary before the second and subsequent ones.
    • We are meeting at 12.30 p.m., having a quick lunch, and starting work at 1.15.
  • 4Present simple
    The present simple tense is also used to talk about events that form part of a timetable or programme.
    • The train leaves Edinburgh at 10.10 a.m. and arrives in London at 3.20 p.m.
    • These are the arrangements for Friday: doors open at 7 p.m., the Mayor arrives at 7.30 p.m., and the meeting starts at 7.45 p.m.
  • 5The future perfect (will have + the past participle of a main verb)
    This form is used to talk about an action that will be complete at a time in the future that you are talking about. It is often used with verbs relating to finishing or completing.The contracted positive form is ’ll have or will’ve.
    • Can you come round next Saturday? – Yes, I’ll have finished my exams by then.
    • Dad will’ve made dinner by the time we get back.
    The contracted negative is won’t have.
    • The essay is due on Tuesday, but I won’t have completed it by then.
    In questions, the subject comes after will. The short answer to a question is will without the past participle.
    • Will you have finished dinner by then? – Yes, we will.
  • 6be + about to + the base form
    The appropriate form of be + about to + the base form of a main verb is used to talk about events in the very near future.
    • Turn off the gas – the soup is about to boil over.
    • Come on! The film’s about to start!
    It is sometimes used with just following the be word to give even more immediacy.
    • Quick, jump in! The train is (just) about to leave.
    Be about to can also be used in the past to suggest that someone is on the point of carrying out an action when it is interrupted. In this case it is usually followed by when.
    • They were (just) about to go to bed when the phone rang.
  • 7The future continuous tense
    This is made with will + be + the present participle of a main verb. Will be forms negatives, contractions, questions, and short answers in the usual way.The future continuous is used in a rather informal way to suggest that something is about to happen or will happen at some time that is not clear or precise.
    • I’ll be seeing you.
    • We’ll be getting in touch with you.
    • They’ll be wanting us to clean our own classrooms next!
    • We won’t be seeing Uncle John while we are in Australia.
    It is also used to talk about an activity that will already be in progress at a particular time in the future.
    • Will you be working here next week?
    • No, I won’t. I’ll be starting my new job.
    • Just think! This time next week, we will be flying to Sydney.
  • 8be to + the base form
    The appropriate form of be + to + the base form of a main verb is used mainly in fairly formal English to talk about plans, arrangements, and instructions. It indicates that what will happen is part of an expected process, and is often found in journalistic texts.
    • Foreign ministers of the NATO countries are to meet in Brussels next week.
    • The President has left for Geneva, where he is to attend the meeting.
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